ⓘ Timbuktu (2014 film)

Timbuktu (2014 film)

ⓘ Timbuktu (2014 film)

Timbuktu is a 2014 Mauritanian-French drama film directed and co-written by Abderrahmane Sissako. It was selected to compete for the Palme dOr in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. At Cannes, it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards, and has been nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 69th British Academy Film Awards. It won Best Film at the 11th Africa Movie Academy Awards. The film was named the twelfth "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far" in 2017 by The New York Times.

The film looks at the brief occupation of Timbuktu, Mali by Ansar Dine. Parts of the film were influenced by a 2012 public stoning of an unmarried couple in Aguelhok. It was shot in Oualata, a town in south-east Mauritania.


1. Plot

The film explores the denizens of the city of Timbuktu, Mali, in West Africa, who are living under strict Sharia law around the year 2012. The city is under the occupation of extremist Islamists bearing a jihadist black flag. The dignified Kidane is a cattle herder who lives outside of the city. One day, one of his cows accidentally damages the net of a fisherman. The enraged fisherman kills the cow. Having armed himself with a pistol, Kidane confronts the fisherman and accidentally shoots him dead. The jihadists arrest Kidane and, per sharia law, offer to spare his life if the victims family forgive him and he pays blood money of 40 cattle. Kidanes daughter corrals the cattle but no forgiveness is forthcoming so he is sentenced to death. His wife shows up at his execution and as they run to each other the executioners gun them down. Kidanes daughter flees.


2. Themes

Throughout the film, there are subsidiary scenes showing the reaction of the population to the jihadists rule, which are portrayed as absurd. A female fishmonger must wear gloves even when selling fish. Music is banned; a woman is sentenced to 40 lashes for singing, and 40 lashes for being in the same room as a man not of her family. A couple are buried up to their necks in sand and stoned to death for adultery. Young men play football with an imaginary ball as sports are banned. A local imam tries to curb the jihadists excesses with sermons. A young woman is forced into marriage to a young jihadi with the blessing of the occupiers who cherrypick Sharia in justification.

The film also acknowledges the failure of the occupiers to live up to their own rules. One of their leaders -- Abdelkerim -- is seen smoking a cigarette. At another point, he and a group of jihadists from France discuss their favorite football players.

Characters speak in Tamasheq, Bambara, Arabic, French, and on a few occasions English. The mobile phone is an important means of communication.


3. Cast

  • Layla Walet Mohamed as Toya
  • Abel Jafri as Abdelkerim
  • Omar Haidara as Amadou
  • Kettly Noel as Zabou
  • Toulou Kiki as Satima
  • Mehdi Ag Mohamed as Issan
  • Hichem Yacoubi
  • Pino Desperado
  • Damien Ndjie as Abu Jaafar
  • Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino as Kidane
  • Fatoumata Diawara as La Chanteuse

4. Production

This fifth film of Sissako was inspired by the true story of a young, unmarried couple who were stoned by Islams in the northern region of Mali that was known as Aguelhoc. During the summer of 2012, the couple was taken to the center of their village, placed in two holes that had been dug in the ground, and were stoned to death in front of hundreds of witnesses.

According to the journalist Nicolas Beau, Sissako wanted to shoot a film on the bondage in Mauritania, denying his president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Sissako then accepted the shooting of a film on the jihadists, with the support of the Mauritanian regime that supplied finances and actors.

Shortly before the opening of the film in Cannes in 2014, Abderrahmane Sissako set off again to Tombouctou with a small team to add some scenes at the last minute.


5.1. Reception Critical reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 99% approval rating and an average rating of 8.9/10 based on 115 reviews. The websites critical consensus reads, "Gracefully assembled and ultimately disquieting, Timbuktu is a timely film with a powerful message." It also received a score of 92 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 31 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". According to both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, Timbuktu is the best reviewed foreign-language film of 2015.

Jay Weissberg of Variety writes, "In the hands of a master, indignation and tragedy can be rendered with clarity yet subtlety, setting hysteria aside for deeper, more richly shaded tones. Abderrahmane Sissako is just such a master." In a review for The Daily Telegraph, Tim Robey suggested it was a "wrenching tragic fable, Aesop-like in its moral clarity." He went on to say it was "full of life, irony, poetry and bitter unfairness."

In the Financial Times, Nigel Andrews called it "skilful, sardonic, honourably humane." Reviewing it for The Guardian, Jonathan Romney called it, "witty, beautiful and even, sobering though it is, highly entertaining" as well as "mischievous and imaginative." He concluded that it was "a formidable statement of resistance."

Sight & Sound s Nick Pinkerton says "The fact remains that there are few filmmakers alive today wearing a mantle of moral authority comparable to that which Sissako has taken upon himself, and if his film has been met with an extraordinary amount of acclaim, it is because he manages to wear this mantle lightly, and has not confused drubbing an audience with messages with profundity. I can’t imagine the film having been made any other way, by anyone else – and this is one measure of greatness."


5.2. Reception Accolades

The film won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2016, it was voted the 36th best film of the 21st century as picked by 177 film critics from around the world.

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  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role in Timbuktu In 2014 she played Satima in Timbuktu The role got her a best supporting actress nomination
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